The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Major-Sowers Saw Mill Photographs
Collection Number: M292
Volume: 26 photographs
Provenance: This collection was donated by Mrs. Norvell G. Waggoner of Hattiesburg, whose husband was a long-time employee of the Major-Sowers Saw Mill Company. Mrs. Waggoner made the photographs available through Dr. Gilbert H. Hoffman, author of Dummy Lines Through the Longleaf: A History of the Sawmills and Logging Railroads of Southwest Mississippi.
The Major-Sowers Saw Mill Company was incorporated in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1908 by Louis Lambert Major and William Jackson Sowers. Major was a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, who began his career in timber as a major stockholder in the Lackawanna Lumber Company in Pennsylvania. He was superintendent of a mill in Mina, Pennsylvania, during the 1890s before moving to Hattiesburg, Mississippi in 1903 to take a job as superintendent for the J. J. Newman Lumber Company. In Hattiesburg, Major met his future partner, William Jackson Sowers of New Jersey, who also began employment with the Newman Lumber Company in 1903.
Major-Sowers Saw Mill Company began its corporate life as the National Lumber Company. It was incorporated on October 3, 1908. In April, 1909 the company changed its charter and its name to Major-Sowers Saw Mill Company. The company also changed its headquarters to Epley, Mississippi (Lamar County), four miles southeast of Sumrall. The settlement began as a saw mill town, named for C. J. Epley, a railroad supervisor who lived in the area.
Located on the Mississippi Central Railroad, the Major-Sowers Saw Mill Company operated in the spring of 1909 with a cutting capacity of 60,000 feet per day. It employed about 125 men, with an average wage of $2.00 per day. Most of the lumber generated from this saw mill was exported to the North at $35-$75 per thousand feet. Premium lumber was sold for as high as $125 per thousand feet. The Epley saw mill also had two locomotives on its grounds that operated on a dummy line connected to the main railroad.
The timber around Epley was cut out by 1921 and the company bought timber land in Perry, Jones, and Greene counties. In addition, the company purchased the Tallahala Lumber Company and all its holdings in Covington and Perry counties, for the tidy sum of $400,000.
The Tallahala's main saw mill camp was located just off the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad line in Perry County, between Petal and Richton. In April 1922, Major-Sowers moved its entire saw mill operation to Tallahala. The Tallahala site included a Filer & Stowell single circular type saw with an 8-foot horizontal band resaw. The mill was capable of producing about 80,000 feet of lumber per day. The Tallahala mill closed on January 31, 1929.
By the time the company bought the Tallahala property, William Sowers had moved to New Orleans, where he died in 1936. Louis Major remained in the Hattiesburg area until his death in 1941.
This collection of photographs from the Major-Sowers Saw Mill Company includes 20 images of company sites in Epley (Lamar County) and Tallahala (Perry County). These black-and-white photographs illustrate many facets of a saw mill company, from the logs coming out of the forests via steam locomotives, to stacking the finished product in the mill's storage shed.
An aerial view of the Tallahala operation and a panoramic photograph of the Epley location demonstrate that the saw mill town was a thriving and well-planned community. Streets were designed and laid out with thought to mill access by the railroad, and from company housing, which was always in sight of the mill.
In addition, the Major-Sowers Saw Mill Company had its national claim to fame. Ten of the photographs in this collection record the export of lumber from the Tallahala site for decking that was used to refurbish the USS Constitution, better known as "Old Ironsides."
This collection is valuable to researchers of various topics, including the lumber industry in the state, and the life and times of a saw mill town. Photographs of the steam locomotives used at the Tallahala site will be of interest to students of early railroading in Mississippi.